DAY ONE ...
I'M OFF - but you knew that already
So here I am yet again. On a windswept Riom railway station waiting for my train. All the best railway journeys start here. But just for a change, despite my plane departing from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport tomorrow, I'm not actually catching the train to Paris. I'm having a change of plan.
So why the photo of this machine, which happens to be a wheelchair ramp? Simply that a couple of my friends, Doug and Krys to name just two, who are very keen on mobility issues, would like the particular sign that's upon it. There's nothing quite like it on any wheelchair ramp that we have ever seen in the UK.
France receives quite a large amount of criticism from many quarters because its stance on mobility issues is somewhat less complete than some people in other countries would like, but on the other hand on some surprising issues it is much farther ahead.
Back at the station however, and after a nice relaxing drive down here courtesy of Bill, so thank you Bill for bringing me here - you'll be an inspector have no fear, I encountered the most helpful SNCF employee that I could ever imagine. And that is going some too because I had a very helpful guy here when I passed through here on one of my previous voyages.
Even better, the coffee in the coffee machine in the waiting area was advertised at €1:10, but I put in just the €1 in and it promptly dished me up. Hmmm - that saved me 10 cents. I'll go for that any day.
Meanwhile, back on the platform, my train pulls in. This is the French equivalent of a rural cross-country train - streets ahead of anything that they can come up with for a British cross-country train of course.
And "cross-country"? Absolutely! I'm not heading to Paris as I have already mentioned and I'm not heading southwards either. And even though I'm going west, both literally and figuratively, my initial destination is eastwards.
How do you like my rainbow? This photo was taken near Lyon as the train was following the River Rhône. It looked so impressive that I felt like alighting from the train and looking for a spade. In other words, I could really dig this rainbow, man ... "groannnnnnn" - ed ...
Yes, Lyon. Our train arrives in ths station and most of us alight here. No struggling with heavy baggages and the like, there's a lift that takes us all downstairs, suitcases and all. It is all much more civilised than having to fight your way through Paris.
My connection is not yet posted, but there's a seating area downstairs in the concourse underneath the tracks, and here there's another coffee machine with coffee at €1:10 (and full-price unfortunately).
And when my connection is posted, there's a steady walk up a long sloping ramp to the platform, consult the indicator to find out where the coach with my reserved seat might be stopping, and position myself accordingly and that is that.
So how about this then for a train? You've probably guessed what it is, and you are dead right. My Jane's Train Recognition Guide states " by the early 1990s the SNCF's Paris-Lyon high-speed service was becoming a victim of its own success with trains full and the line approaching maximum capacity". How SNCF responded was not by making trains longer but by making them taller and in the late 1990s the company introduced double-decker TGVs.
This is in fact one of the aforementioned and this is how I'm going to travel from here on. But I'm not going to Paris at all, and neither is the train. Next stop, Aéroport Charles de Gaulle (well, it isn't because it's actually Marne-la Vallée for Eurodisney) and I'm not leaving this train until it stops at the airport.
The downside of this is that even though the train isn't full, the luggage space is overflowing. I've no idea how they would cope if it were full of passengers. However I helped a nice young lady find a space for her suitcase and then she helped me with mine. Aren't people friendly when they are fighting a common cause?
We also had a wait of 20 minutes for a delayed connection and that didn't help matters very much either. But never mind - that's the kind of thing that can happen anywhere. Still, GRRRRRRRRRR nevertheless. It's a good job that I have some decent music on the laptop just for an eventuality such as this. Hurtling along at 220kph while listening to Liege And Lief is an experience not to be missed.
Another thing that I learnt while I was waiting in the rest area at Lyon. A TGV pulled in from Brussels Midi. and the train upon which I am travelling is going to Lille Europe, where there are connections to London. Doesn't this open up all kinds of possibilities for the future?
We eventually arrive at the airport, without going anywhere near Paris or struggling with suitcases anywhere, about 40 minutes late and here's a first. As I walk out of the building onto the forecourt, the hotel shuttle bus, which runs every hour at this time of night, pulls up right in front of me and that's astonishing. I've made up all of the time that we lost on the train.
And so the verdict of travelling to Lyon and then taking the TGV direct to the airport? It cost about €20 more for the return ticket than going via Paris, but saved the €18 shuttle fee on the RER. No more Paris for me!